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Lessons I learned from publishing Hot Chicks: The Roleplaying Game

December 27, 2011

In 2007, I’d finished my novel and was looking for something else to write.  I’d done a few art pieces for DrivethroughRPG.com, mostly a line of miniature standees.  There were three lines of these standees… “Hot Chicks,” “Hot Dudes,” and “Stuff to Beat Up.”  I’d been doing the Poser art for about ten years at that point in time, and I figured I’d see if I could actually make the hobby pay off.  Turns out, it didn’t work out too badly.  “Hot Dudes” and “Stuff to Beat Up” had pretty small sales, but every “Hot Chicks” product was a good earner.

I published some art books that had more detailed copies of the images, and through the process, a game world in which these standees were the primary moving force of the storyline suggested itself.  It was not a standard game world, nor was it “family friendly.”  It incorporated elements from some of the seedier sides of literature, and a lot of the sensationalist elements from the cinema of the 1980’s.  I teamed up with my long time friend Victor Gipson, who shared my vision of this game world, and we started a “joke project.”  We would write a silly little game that would let us put pictures in it, built around this world.

That’s when I learned that I really didn’t want to write a “silly little game.”  Years upon years of working with game mechanics and probabilities and design, and more, suffering through a mounting market of games of descending quality (and increasing price!) had instilled in me a deep desire to write a good game.  One with mechanics that allowed for my unique style of storytelling, and that encouraged the Role Playing Game as a cooperative, rather than a competitive, activity.  It turned into a “kitchen sink” game with a nearly unlimited variety of villains and special abilities.  Of course, we still intended to ride on the success of the existing product line, and so “Hot Chicks: The Roleplaying Game” was born.

First lesson learned: If you put the effort into writing a game of quality, give it a title of quality.  We lost sales on “Hot Chicks” before it was ever published from the title alone.  “I don’t think I could convince my gaming group to play something called ‘Hot Chicks,’ but good luck with that!”

The title invited comparisons to other games in similar-sounding genres.  Of course, there really was only one.  “This game is, essentially, Macho Women with Guns for a new era, right?”

Next lesson learned:  You simply can not please everyone.  Hot Chicks has a very dedicated fan base; we’ve produced almost a hundred supplements for it since its release in August of 2008, and all of the supplements have seen decent sales.  However, some of the first comments we received on the core book, publicly, were that we didn’t go “far enough.”  We’d produced a game with mature overtones, but an insufficient amount of detail for some people’s tastes.  That was, of course, deliberate.  We decided that we didn’t mind a little attention due to our subject matter, but we tried to keep everything in good taste.  When we produced a supplement that “filled in the blanks” for those who wanted more mature details (Inner Darkness), people STILL wanted more.  There are some lines that I really just won’t cross in my writing.  Mind you, my lines probably go out a little further than many peoples’, but they’re quite firm.

Still, we tried to do everything in good taste.  We were ready for a certain amount of backlash – heck, we even invited it, to some degree.  We included copious warnings and notes in our books cautioning about the mis-use of the material within them, where we felt it was even vaguely necessary.  There were a couple of lengthy internet forum discussions, but they quickly disintegrated into off-topic musings that had little or nothing to do with our game or its content.

We were ready for torches and pitchforks; what we got was “meh.”

Oh, and another important lesson:  You have not done enough proofreading.  I still smack myself upside the head for any number of basic, simple errors in the layout of the core book.  There are a lot of people who have volunteered themselves as proofreaders if we ever do another product line, mostly because of the errors in Hot Chicks.  They’re relatively few in number, but man, they glare.  Oh yes, I will be calling those markers in.

Next Lesson:  Stand up for your brand.  Hot Chicks uses a system we called “The Inverted 20 System.”  Simple enough, low rolls on a d20 are preferable, the inverse of the d20 System.  Turns out, though, that strictly through parallel development, another company was on the verge of releasing their “inverted 20 system” a couple of months after we released ours.  The creator of that system and I discussed this at some length, and I agreed that there was no real reason that we couldn’t both simply have “the inverted 20 system.”  Well, I was incorrect.  If you’re trying to build a brand name, you really need to be the only one who has it.  Well, we live and learn.

There are any number of other lessons; Hot Chicks was our first baby.  A very, very big baby.  You know, if you’re simply e-publishing a title, then a four hundred and fifty page book isn’t really a problem.  When you go to Print on Demand for that book, though… well, another lesson:  Don’t write a 454 page book that you intend to use through Print on Demand.  That started another little discussion on some internet forums… which degenerated even faster.

I intend to write a “silly little game” one of these days; a one-shot with brutally simplistic rules and a high degree of head explosions.  That’s not where my head is at these days, though.

All in all, I’m proud of Hot Chicks, and what we’ve managed to accomplish with it.  I’d have done a number of things differently, if I were to do it again.  Mostly, it wouldn’t be “Hot Chicks,” but something with a bit of seriousness to it.  For all that, though, it has some bad flaws, not the least of which is its title.

The graphics need updating badly, and my Photoshop skills needed work.  I think the images in the book convey the meaning they were meant to – they could be better.  Note: I’m not apologizing for doing the majority of the art in Poser.  I happen to like the digital art feel of Poser, and it allows me to produce quality, consistent graphics in a fairly short amount of time.  I’m just saying that my skills in 2008 weren’t where they could have been; my skills in 2011 are more like where I need them to be.

The pricing of most items, including magic spells and cyberware, is inconsistent and poorly balanced.  When generating that much material, a set of guidelines better than “I don’t know, what do YOU think it should cost?” is really needed.

The rules are inconsistent; we referenced things towards the front of the rules that never got covered towards the back of them.  Most folks figured out what we meant, but it still irks me that there’s that disconnect.

The sample adventure is juvenile, and completely fails to address the scope of what is possible in the game; likewise, the sample characters lack the depth that I would have liked to have seen.

I guess the biggest lesson, then, is that you need to put at least as much enthusiasm into the last page of text as you put into the first page of text, if not more.  Another reason not to write a 450 page tome… it’s hard to maintain that level of excitement about your product when you’ve had to slog through hundreds of pages of it.

As we draw close to the production of a new core book for a new product line, I’m trying to keep these lessons, and the lessons of others, in mind.  There are a number of other products that gave me negative examples, but I really had to take my own apart before I moved on to anyone else’s.  I’m sure I missed a few things about Hot Chicks… but then again, I’m STILL ready for torches and pitchforks.

 

(Oh, as a side note:  My absolute favorite comment to appear on the internet [so far] about Hot Chicks was a negative comment left in a flurry of people talking about what a horrible game it was and what a horrible person I was for writing it.  The comment was “well I, for one, would never touch ANYTHING called Hot Chicks!”  I have to wonder if the poster thought about what he was saying, at the time).

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